The Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association has many programs and initiatives to help grow the sport of stand up paddle boarding. None of our goals are more important than our commitment to promoting safety in SUP racing. We want to promote fun, fair and safe rules to help SUP race directors organize the best event possible.
Our rulebook contains comprehensive guidelines to help race organizers put on an amazing and safe SUP event. Use the tips below and read our rulebook for information on safety vessel operation, course layout, safety protocol, race day forecasts, competitor extraction points and many more valuable tools and information.
Please send us your ideas and feedback on how to help ensure SUP racing continues positive and safe growth.
10 TIPS FOR A SAFE SUP RACE
* In no particular order because they are all important!
1.) Ensure you have water safety vessels present at all areas of a race course.
SUPAA recommends 1 safety vessel for every 40 paddlers in a race. If the course is a beach race in waves of 1 meter or greater we recommend 1 safety vessel or lifeguard for every 20 paddlers in a race.
Another important note on safety vessels is to make sure there are at least two people in each vessel. It is very hard, and unsafe, for one person to steer a boat and attempt to rescue a paddler at the same time. If one person on each boat carries a form of safety/first-aid certification this is good to have as well.
* IMPORTANT: Make sure the safety vessels do not alter the outcome of a race by throwing a wake toward paddlers.
2.) Form a safety plan and share with your race team.
What do you do if there is a sudden thunderstorm? Where do you extract competitors from the race course who are injured? These are just a few questions to consider when planning a race. Form a plan, and more importantly, communicate the plan with your race team and the competitors.
Check out the detailed SUPAA safety checklist HERE.
3.) Hold a racers meeting.
Competitors can be the greatest safety assets at an event. The head race director should inform racers on the safety protocol and what to do if they themselves, or a paddler nearby, are in distress. We recommend informing paddlers to sit on their board and wave their hands or paddle in a back-and-forth motion to signal for help.
Inform competitors if the weather may change or if there are any particular course features to be aware of. For example, if the wind is forecast to pick up to 20 knots, and there is a sailboat race going on at the inlet they are passing through, let the competitors know at the race meeting.
4.) Provide detailed race course information and forecasts.
The more information a competitor knows, the better they can form a successful race plan. Competitors need to know if a race course has strong current and the potential for challenging water conditions. Local knowledge will help paddlers who can handle tough conditions prepare for the race. More importantly, it will inform paddlers who are not ready to safely paddle in rough conditions and help them avoid putting themselves in danger.
Each individual will ultimately decide their own race, but at least you are giving paddlers the knowledge to make an informed decision.
Sometimes we take for granted our knowledge and comfort on the water. Many paddlers are participating in SUP as their first water sport. The more information you provide the more comfortable they will be.
For an example of the specific information we recommend providing visit: http://supathletes.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/race-day-conditions.pdf
5.) Wear a leash.
Many local law enforcement agencies require paddlers to have a PFD on their board. First and foremost paddlers must obey local marine laws. We believe that a leash can be a more valuable safety feature than an un-inflated PFD. SUPAA requires all SUPAA distance event competitors to wear leashes. Exceptions will be made in rivers or other conditions where wearing a leash can sometimes be more dangerous.
Maintaining a solid connection to the biggest flotation object available to a paddler seems like a safer bet than relying on a salt-encrusted CO2 cartridge to inflate your five-year-old PFD. We are not saying PFD’s cannot be a valuable tool for safety. We recommend them at all races. However, we believe in the security of attaching yourself to 14’ feet of floating foam.
6.) Maintain communication between your race team.
Communication is important to consider both before and during an event. Ensuring everyone is on the same page before race day will help a race director execute the safety plan in the case of an emergency. On race day it is key that there is communication systems between race officials on the beach and in the water. The head race director needs to know what is going on around the event at all times.
7.) Notify local law enforcement and marine safety authorities.
Many governments will require you to do this in order to hold an event. In any case, notifying the local authorities can instantly give you access to some of the most advanced water safety teams available. In the United States, the Coast Guard and other marine safety units have made their services available at SUP events. Why not take advantage of men and women who are trained to rescue distressed boaters in 50 foot seas? Surely they can add a great deal of professional safety and peace of mind at your SUP event!
8.) Organize professional medical staff for your event.
In the perfect situation an event is able to have professional medical staff available at the event site in the case of an emergency. Many EMS teams can be hired to provide their services at the event site. If the event is on a budget, it costs nothing to call the local hospital, fire station or clinic to notify them about your event. The medical staff may provide support for free or you can get creative and trade services for a SUP lesson!
9.) Use your best judgment.
If race day comes and the weather gods are not cooperating, don’t force the issue. The safety of the competitors should always be the number one priority of a race director. You will get paddlers who complain if you have to call off a race. Who cares. Complaints are easier to deal with than trying to explain to the authorities why a competitor went missing in a thunderstorm during your race. We are being a bit over dramatic here but you get the point.
Lightning, high winds, high seas, extreme heat/cold are all external factors beyond your control. The head race director has the ultimate authority to postpone or cancel a race. Use best judgement and always put the safety of the competitors first.
10.) Set the race up for success.
Placing a turn buoy in a pounding shore break for a recreational race is not a way to set a race up for success. Limit the opportunity for competitors to get hurt by setting the course, as well as start/finish line, in a safe manner.
Sufficient room to start and finish is hugely important both for safety and fairness. Expect a few full articles dedicated to setting up fair and safe races coming soon!
Place the buoys in areas that are safe for paddlers to round based on their abilities. Shore break buoys for a recreational race is probably not a good idea.
Do not use boats for buoys! There is no greater danger for propeller-dismemberment or anchor-impalement than using a boat as a turn buoy. Perhaps a boat can be used for a buoy if conditions are completely glassy and calm. However, we like to promote that boats are for safety and buoys are for marking the course. Don’t mix them up.
This is only a quick list of ten important things to consider in order to put on a safe SUP race. Much more goes into planning and executing a SUP event then what is listed here. We strive to include as much valuable information as possible for SUP race directors and athletes in our rulebook, on our website and during our race official courses. However, we know there is always more to cover and ways to improve.
Send your ideas to info@SUPathletes.com and use the SUPAA rulebook to help ensure your SUP events are as safe and fair as possible.